# Arch Appl Mech (2006) 76: 229–243

DOI 10.1007/s00419-006-0018-8
ORIGINAL
K. Liu · W. Liu
Application of discrete element method for continuum
dynamic problems
Received: 13 May 2005 / Accepted: 9 March 2006 / Published online: 25 April 2006
Abstract Anewmethod based on the principle of minimumpotential energy is presented, aiming to overcome
some weakness of the present discrete element method (DEM). Our primary research is to put forward the
DEM with a tight theory base and a ﬁt technique for treating continuum dynamic problems. By using this
method, we can not only extend the existing seven-disc model, but also establish a new nine-disc model in a
general way. Moreover, the equivalences of two kinds of models have been veriﬁed. In addition, three numer-
ical examples of stress wave propagation problems are given in order to validate accuracy and efﬁciency of
the present DEM models and their algorithms. Finally, the dynamic stress concentration problem of a square
plate with a circular hole is analyzed.
Keywords Computation mechanics · Continuum dynamics · Discrete element Method · Numerical model ·
Stress wave Propagation
1 Introduction
Various mechanical phenomena can be observed in materials and structures under impact loading, such as stress
wave propagation, large deformation, damage and failure [1]. Numerical simulation is an effective measure
for studying those problems. Among the numerical algorithms, ﬁnite difference method (FDM), ﬁnite volume
element method (FVM) [11–13], ﬁnite element method (FEM), boundary element method (BEM) and the
method of characteristics are suitable for analyzing the dynamic behaviors of continuum, and for forecasting
the failure region of materials accurately. However, it is difﬁcult for the above methods to simulate the entire
failure process. Additional special treatments (such as remeshing and contact judgment) have to be considered
in the procedure of calculation, where damage or fracture appears. The problems demand further research.
The discrete element method (DEM), which was ﬁrst proposed by Cundall [2] in early 1970’s, is proved
to be a successful tool for modeling non-continuum, such as rocks or granular materials. It has been widely
used in geotechnical engineering and powder technology [3–5]. However, accuracy of the traditional DEM
is not so good as FEM for continuum, thus the DEM–FEM combination algorithms have been introduced
[6, 7]. FEMis adopted in the continuumpart, while DEM is used where damage appears. Since two procedures
of DEM and FEM are involved in the algorithms, the programs and the logical relation may be too complex.
Furthermore, artiﬁcial judgements are often needed in the fractured area, which are unfavorable to practical
application. Therefore, a special DEM model for both continuum and non-continuum could be set up naturally
This work was supported by Nation Natural Science Foundation of China (nos. 10232040 and 10572002).
K. Liu (B) · W. Liu
LTCS and Department of Mechanics and Engineering Science,
Peking University, Beijing 100871, People’s Republic of China
E-mail: kliu@pku.edu.cn
Tel.: +86-10-62765844
Fax: +86-10-62751812
230 K. Liu, W. Liu
whose accuracy matches that of FEM for continuum. In our model, the connective links between destroyed
elements simply change to contact links of the traditional DEM and the element arrangement patterns keeps
unchangable. In this research ﬁeld, some successful simulations on the transmforming process from contimu-
um to non-continuum is reported in Ref. [1, 8, 9], such as the transient responses of a steel warhead penetrating
a concrete disc harrow and the damage process of concrete block under impact loading. However, all those
DEM models are developed for speciﬁc problems. Lack of rigorous theoretical foundation and ﬂexibility of
arrangement patterns in modeling seriously limits the wide use of DEM, especially for continuum dynamic
problems.
In this paper, a new method to establish the DEM model for continuum dynamic problems is presented
based on the principle of minimum potential energy. The present method not only extends the exsiting seven-
disc model [1, 8], but also puts forward a new nine-disc model in a general way. Moreover, the equivalences
of these two kinds of models have been veriﬁed. By mean of the models and the corresponding numerical
scheme, stress wave propagations due to a longitudinal pulse are calculated in an isotropic, an anisotropic and
a layered plate. And the dynamic stress concentration problem on a square plate with a hole is investigated.
Comparing the numerical results with the corresponding results obtained by FEM, FVM, and the method of
characteristics, accuracy and efﬁciency of the models and their algorithms are examined.
2 Discrete model for continuum
2.1 Basic formulation
The plane stress problem is considered here. A elastic plate is subdivided into many rigid disc elements, which
are linked by two kinds of springs (a normal spring and a tangential spring) as shown in Fig. 1. There are
two possible kinds of compact arrangement patterns of discs, type A and type B. Type A is called seven-disc
model, and type B is called nine-disc model. For type A, semi-disc elements are needed on the neat boundary.
Type C in Fig. 1, an arbitrary arrangement disc model, is not considered, because the model is not suitable for
treating continuum problems.
Assuming the elastic plate is subdivided into N disc elements, the total potential energy of the disc-spring
system is given as follows:
=
N
¸
i
(U
i
V
i
) +
N
¸
i
(u
xi
ρ ¨ u
xi
V
i
+u
yi
ρ ¨ u
yi
V
i
) −
N
¸
i
(u
xi
f
xi
V
i
+u
yi
f
yi
V
i
) −
N
¸
i
(u
xi
¯
T
xi
S
i
+u
yi
¯
T
yi
S
i
),
(1)
A
i
j
C
i
j
B
n
k
s
k
j
i
nj
u
ni
u
yi
u
sj
u
xi
u
yj
u
xj
u
i
O
si
u
i
O
j
O
j
O n
s
x
y
o
o

a
. . . . .
. .
. . .
. .
.
. . . .
. .
. . .
. . . . .
. .
. .
.
. . . . .
.
.
.
.
. .
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .
. . .
. .
. . .
. .
. .
. . . .
. .
. .
. . .
.
.
Fig. 1 Discrete element method models based on rigid disc elements
Application of discrete element method for continuum dynamic problems 231
where U
i
is the average strain energy around disc i , V
i
the volume of disc i , ρ the mass density, S
i
the boundary
area of external force on disc i . u
xi
, u
yi
and ¨ u
xi
, ¨ u
yi
are the displacements and the accelerations of disc i in
the horizontal and the vertical directions, respectively. f
xi
, f
yi
and
¯
T
xi
,
¯
T
yi
are the components of body force
and surface force on disc i in the horizontal and the vertical directions, respectively.
The deformation effect of a elastic body is performed through the deformation of springs in the DEM
models. Supposing that disc i connects with p discs (see Fig. 1), the average strain energy around disc i is
written as follows:
U
i
=
1
V
i
p
¸
j
1
2
¸
1
2
k
ni j
(u
nj
−u
ni
)
2
+
1
2
k
si j
(u
s j
−u
si
)
2
¸
(2)
where k
ni j
and k
si j
are the spring constants between discs i and j along the normal and the tangential direc-
tions, respectively. u
ni
and u
si
are the normal and the tangential displacements of disc i . u
nj
and u
s j
are the
normal and the tangential displacements of disc j .
As shown in Fig. 1, assuming the rotation angle between x-axes and the normal direction of the spring as
α, l = cos(α), and m = sin(α), we obtain that
u
n
= u
x
l +u
y
m, u
s
= u
y
l −u
x
m. (3)
Substituting Eq. (3) into Eq. (2), the following result can be yielded
U
i
=
1
4V
i
p
¸
j
k
ni j
[l
i j
(u
x j
−u
xi
) +m
i j
(u
yj
−u
yi
)]
2
+
1
4V
i
p
¸
j
k
si j
[−m
i j
(u
x j
−u
xi
) +l
i j
(u
yj
−u
yi
)]
2
.
(4)
Substituting Eq. (4) into Eq. (1) and according to variational calculus ∂/∂u
xi
= 0, ∂/∂u
yi
= 0, ¨ u
xi
and ¨ u
yi
are given by
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¨ u
xi
=
1
ρV
i
¸
f
xi
V
i
+
¯
T
xi
S
i
+
p
¸
j
k
ni j
[l
2
i j
(u
x j
−u
xi
) +l
i j
m
i j
(u
yj
−u
yi
)]
+
p
¸
j
k
si j
[m
2
i j
(u
x j
−u
xi
) −l
i j
m
i j
(u
yj
−u
yi
)]
¸
,
¨ u
yi
=
1
ρV
i
¸
f
yi
V
i
+
¯
T
yi
S
i
+
p
¸
j
k
ni j
[l
i j
m
i j
(u
x j
−u
xi
) +m
2
i j
(u
yj
−u
yi
)]
+
p
¸
j
k
si j
[−l
i j
m
i j
(u
x j
−u
xi
) +l
2
i j
(u
yj
−u
yi
)]
¸
.
(5)
Therefore, [ ¨ u
xi
]
t
and
¸
¨ u
yi
¸
t
at moment t are obtained by Eq. (5), where [ ]
t
denotes the physical quantity
at moment t . At moment t +t , [ ˙ u
xi
]
t +t
,
¸
˙ u
yi
¸
t +t
, [u
xi
]
t +t
and
¸
u
yi
¸
t +t
can be obtaind according to
Euler formula
¸
[ ˙ u
xi
]
t +t
= [ ˙ u
xi
]
t
+[ ¨ u
xi
]
t
t
[ ˙ u
yi
]
t +t
= [ ˙ u
yi
]
t
+[ ¨ u
yi
]
t
t
¸
[u
xi
]
t +t
= [u
xi
]
t
+[ ˙ u
xi
]
t
t,
[u
yi
]
t +t
= [u
yi
]
t
+[ ˙ u
yi
]
t
t,
(6)
where t is a time increment.
2.2 The relation between relative displacement and strain
The relative displacement between two points (i and j ) can be expressed as du
i
= (ε
i j

i j
)dx
j
. Considering
a small-rotation problem (rotation tensor ω
i j
are ignored), the following equations are obtained.
¸
u
x j
−u
xi
= (x
j
− x
i

x
+
y
j
−y
i
2
γ
xy
= (r
i
+r
j
)lε
x
+
r
i
+r
j
2

xy
,
u
yj
−u
yi
= (y
j
− y
i

y
+
x
j
−x
i
2
γ
xy
= (r
i
+r
j
)mε
x
+
r
i
+r
j
2

xy
,
(7)
232 K. Liu, W. Liu
where r
i
and r
j
are the radius of disc i and disc j , respectively. ε
x
, ε
y
and γ
xy
are the engineering strain
components.
Substituting Eq. (7) into Eq. (3), the relations between the relative displacement and strain at two points
are given by
¸
u
nj
−u
ni
= (r
i
+r
j
)(l
2
ε
x
+m
2
ε
y
+lmγ
xy
),
u
s j
−u
si
=

r
i
+r
j
2

[2lm(ε
y
−ε
x
) +(l
2
−m
2

xy
].
(8)
3 The relation between spring constants and elastic constants
Considering two disc elements that are linked by the normal spring and the tangential spring, the relation
between spring constants and elastic constants can be certainly established if plastic deformation and fracture
do not take place. As shown in Fig. 1, taking disc i into consideration, the average strain energy is expressed
with the elastic potential energy of all normal and all tangential springs. Substituting Eq. (8) into Eq. (2), the
average strain energy over disc i is obtain by
U
i
=
1
V
i
p
¸
j
¸
k
ni j
r
2
i

l
2
i j
ε
xi
+m
2
i j
ε
yi
+l
i j
m
i j
γ
xyi

2
+
1
4
k
si j
r
2
i
(2l
i j
m
i j

yi
−ε
xi
) +(l
2
i j
−m
2
i j

xyi
)
2
¸
(9)
The subscript i of U
i
is omitted, as disc i is an arbitrary disc. Making
A =
¸
j
k
ni j
r
2
i
l
4
i j
, B =
¸
j
k
ni j
r
2
i
m
4
i j
, C = C
1
=
¸
j
k
ni j
r
2
i
l
2
i j
m
2
i j
, C
2
=
¸
j
k
si j
r
2
i
l
2
i j
m
2
i j
,
D =
¸
j
k
si j
r
2
i
(l
2
i j
−m
2
i j
)
2
, E =
¸
j
k
ni j
r
2
i
l
3
i j
m
i j
, F =
¸
j
k
ni j
r
2
i
l
i j
m
3
i j
,
G =
¸
j
k
si j
r
2
i
l
i j
m
i j
(l
2
i j
−m
2
i j
). (10)
Equation (9) can be written as
U =
1
V
¸
(A +C
2

2
x
+(B +C
2

2
y
+(2C
1
−2C
2

x
ε
y
+

C
1
+
D
4
¸
γ
2
xy
+(2E − G)ε
x
γ
xy
+(2F + G)ε
y
γ
xy
¸
. (11)
The average strain energy formula in anisotropic materials for the plane stress problem is written as
U =
1
2
(c
11
ε
2
x
+c
22
ε
2
y
+c
66
γ
2
xy
+2c
12
ε
x
ε
y
+2c
16
ε
x
γ
xy
+2c
26
ε
y
, γ
xy
), (12)
where c
i j
are the elastic coefﬁcients.
The average strain energy in Eq. (11) and Eq. (12) are equivalent. So, the conditions of the DEM model
are given by
Vc
11
= 2A +2C
2
, Vc
22
= 2B +2C
2
, Vc
66
= 2C
1
+ D/2,
Vc
12
= 2C
1
−2C
2
, Vc
16
= 2E − G, Vc
26
= 2F + G. (13)
The relation between spring constants and elastic constants are obtained, if the arrangement patterns of discs
satisfy Eq. (13).
Application of discrete element method for continuum dynamic problems 233
3.1 Seven-disc model and its spring constant determination
For type A shown in Fig. 1, each disc is surrounded by other six discs, which forms regular hexagon lattices.
As shown in Fig. 2, the seven discs are numbered and all disc radius are r. Suppose k
n1
and k
s1
are the normal
and the tangential spring constants between disc 0 and disc 1, and between disc 0 and disc 4, respectively; k
n2
and k
s2
are the normal and the tangential spring constants between disc 0 and disc 2, and between disc 0 and
disc 5, respectively; k
n3
and k
s3
are the normal and the tangential spring constants between disc 0 and disc 3,
and between disc 0 and disc 6, respectively. Finally, Eq. (10) is changed to
A = r
2

2k
n1
+
1
8
k
n2
+
1
8
k
n3

, B = r
2

9
8
k
n2
+
9
8
k
n3

, C
1
= r
2

3
8
k
n2
+
3
8
k
n3

,
C
2
= r
2

3
8
k
s2
+
3
8
k
s3

, D = r
2

2k
s1
+
1
2
k
s2
+
1
2
k
s3

, E = r
2

3
8
k
n2

3
8
k
n3

,
F = r
2

3

3
8
k
n2

3

3
8
k
n3

, G = r
2

3
4
k
s2
+

3
4
k
s3

. (14)
Then substituting Eq. (14) into Eq. (13), the normal and the tangential spring constants for anisotropic materials
are obtained by
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
k
n1
=

3
6
(3c
11
+2c
12
−c
22
)δ,
k
n2
= k
n3
=

3
3
(c
12
+c
22
±

3c
16
±

3c
26
)δ,
k
s1
=
2

3
3
(3c
66
−c
22
)δ,
k
s2
= k
s3
=

3
3
(c
22
−3c
12
±3

3c
16

3c
26
)δ,
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
k
n1
=

3
6
(3c
11
+2c
12
−c
22
)δ,
k
n2
=

3
3
(c
12
+c
22
+

3c
16
+

3c
26
)δ,
k
n3
=

3
3
(c
12
+c
22

3c
16

3c
26
)δ,
k
s1
=
2

3
3
(3c
66
−c
22
)δ,
k
s2
=

3
3
(c
22
−3c
12
+3

3c
16

3c
26
)δ,
k
s3
=

3
3
(c
22
−3c
12
−3

3c
16
+

3c
26
)δ,
(15)
where δ = V/(2

3r
2
) is the thickness of the disc.
For orthotropic materials, c
16
= 0 and c
26
= 0, Eq. (15) is changed to
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
k
n1
=

3
6
(3c
11
+2c
12
−c
22
)δ,
k
n2
= k
n3
=

3
3
(c
12
+c
22
)δ,
k
s1
=
2

3
3
(3c
66
−c
22
)δ,
k
s2
= k
s3
=

3
3
(c
22
−3c
12
)δ.
(16)
0 1
2 3
4
5 6
Fig. 2 Seven-disc model
234 K. Liu, W. Liu
For isotropic materials, c
11
= c
22
= (E/1 −ν
2
), c
12
= (νE/1 −ν
2
), and c
66
= G = (E/2(1 +ν)), Eq. (16)
is changed to
¸
k
n
= k
n1
= k
n2
= k
n3
=

3(1−ν)
,
k
s
= k
s1
= k
s2
= k
s3
=
Eδ(1−3ν)

3(1−ν
2
)
,
(17)
where E is elastic modulus, v is Poisson’s ratio. For the cases of orthotropic materials and isotropic materials,
the results about the normal and the tangential spring constants are the same as the research results based on
Green’s formula [1].
3.2 Nine-disc model and its spring constant determination
For type B shown in Fig. 1, each disc is surrounded by other eight discs, which forms regular square lattices.
As shown in Fig. 3, the nine discs are numbered and all disc radius are r. Suppose k
n1
and k
s1
are the normal
and the tangential spring constants between disc 0 and disc 1, and between disc 0 and disc 5, respectively; k
n3
and k
s3
are the normal and the tangential spring constants between disc 0 and disc 3, and between disc 0 and
disc 7, respectively; k
n2
and k
s2
are the normal and the tangential spring constants between disc 0 and disc 2,
between disc 0 and disc 4, between disc 0 and disc 6, and between disc 0 and disc 8, respectively. Finally, Eq.
(10) is changed to
A = 2r
2
(k
n1
+k
n2
), B = 2r
2
(k
n3
+k
n2
), C
1
= 2r
2
k
n2
, C
2
= 2r
2
k
s2
,
D = 2r
2
(k
s1
+k
s3
), E = F = G = 0. (18)
This model is not suitable for general anisotropic materials since E = F = G = 0. However, it can solve the
problem of orthotropic materials for c
16
= 0 and c
26
= 0. When k
s
= k
s1
= k
s2
= k
s3
, substituting Eq. (18)
into Eq. (13), the normal and the tangential spring constants for orthotropic materials are obtained by
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
k
n1
=
1
3
(3c
11
+c
12
−4c
66
)δ,
k
n2
=
1
3
(c
12
+2c
66
)δ,
k
n3
=
1
3
(c
12
+3c
22
−4c
66
)δ,
k
s
=
2
3
(c
66
−c
12
)δ,
(19)
where δ = V/(4r
2
).
For isotropic materials, c
11
= c
22
= (E/1 −ν
2
), c
12
= (νE/1 −ν
2
), and c
66
= G = (E/2(1 +ν)),
Eq. (20) is changed to
¸
¸
¸
¸
¸
k
n1
= k
n3
=
1+3ν
3(1−ν
2
)
Eδ,
k
n2
=
1
3(1−ν
2
)
Eδ,
k
s
=
1−3ν
3(1−ν
2
)
Eδ,
(20)
0 1
3
5
7 8
2
4
6
Fig. 3 Nine-disc model
Application of discrete element method for continuum dynamic problems 235
4 Numerical results and discussion
4.1 Stress wave propagation in anisotropic half-space
For validating accuracy and efﬁciency of the DEMmodels and the numerical algorithm, an anisotropic dynamic
problemis calculatedbyour DEMalgorithmandANSYSLS-DYNA, respectively. As showninFig. 4, the stress
propagation process in an anisotropic half-space under a pressure pulse is simulated. The elastic coefﬁcients
are c
11
= 4.52385 GPa, c
12
= 0.88425 GPa, c
22
= 4.52385 GPa, c
66
= 1.61195 GPa, c
16
= 0.39005 GPa,
and c
26
= 0.39005 GPa. The mass density is ρ = 1, 244 kg/m
3
. The initial and the boundary conditions are
given by
¸
σ
x
= σ
y
= σ
xy
= 0, v
x
= v
y
= 0 for t = 0,
σ
y
= −p(x, t ) = −p
0
H(a −|x|) exp(−α t
2
) sin(β t ) for y = 0,
(21)
where H(x) denotes the Heaviside function, σ
x
, σ
y
and σ
xy
are the stress components, v
x
and v
y
are the
velocities in the horizontal and the vertical directions, α = 5.689 × 10
9
s
−2
, β = 2, 659 s
−1
, p
0
= 3.31 GPa,
and the loaded area is a = 20mm.
For DEM, the seven-disc model is used with the radius r = 1 mmand the time step t = 0.8 µs, where the
spring constants are given by Eq. (15). The dimension of the numerical model is 600 ×300 ×1 mm
3
(Length ×
Width × Thickness), where the number of discs is 51,814, and the total time is t = 200 µs. It takes about
210s to solve the problem with our PC (An Intel Pentium IV 1.6G CPU).
Using ANSYS LS-DYNA, the number of nodes is 45,451, and the time step is t ≈ 0.8 µs. The whole
computation consumes 310s (the computer is the same). Thus, the efﬁciency of our DEM algorithm is a little
higher than ANSYS LS-DYNA. Figs. 5 and 6 showthe contour lines of the horizontal and the vertical displace-
ments at time t = 104 µs calculated respectively by our DEM algorithm and ANSYS LS-DYNA. Comparing
Fig. 5 with Fig. 6, we can ﬁnd that distributions of the displacements are almost the same. From Figs. 5 and 6,
it is seen the typical characters that stress wave propagation in anisotropic media is not symmetrical, and the
speeds of stress waves are different along each direction. It testiﬁes accuracy and efﬁciency of the DEMmodels
and our program in calculating continuum dynamic problems.
4.2 Comparison of the numerical results by seven-disc model and nine-disc model
In this paper, two kinds of DEM models, seven-disc model and nine-disc model, are proposed for continuum
dynamic problems in order to enrich arrangement patterns of discs and enhance ﬂexibility in practical appli-
cation. Now we validate consistency of the two models through a numerical example. The geometric model
and the boundary conditions of the numerical example are the same as those in Sect. 4.1. But the material is
isotropic, and parameters are E = 4.6375 GPa, ν = 0.3, and ρ = 1, 244 kg/m
3
.
2a
( , ) p x t
y
o
x
Fig. 4 Semi-inﬁnite plate and coordinate system
236 K. Liu, W. Liu
Fig. 5 contour lines of the horizontal and the vertical displacements at t = 104 µs calculated by present method. (a) The contour
lines of the vertical displacement. (b) The contour lines of the horizontal displacement
Fig. 6 The contour lines of the horizontal and the vertical displacements at t = 104 µs calculated by ANSYS LS-DYNA. (a) The
contour lines of the vertical displacement. (b) The contour lines of the horizontal displacement
Application of discrete element method for continuum dynamic problems 237
The number of discs is 51,814 for the seven-disc model and 45,000 for the nine-disc model with the radius
r = 1mm. The time step is t = 0.2 µs, and the total time is t = 200 µs. Figure 7 shows the contour lines
of the vertical displacement at time t = 104 µs calculated by the seven-disc model and the nine-disc model,
respectively. Because the above problem is symmetrical about y-axis, only the part in the positive direction of
x-axis is presented. Comparing Fig. 7a with Fig. 7b, it can be seen that the numerical results are the same.
Figure 8 shows the distribution of the dimensionless maximum shear stress τ
max
/p
max
at t = 104 µs for
the two DEM models, respectively, where p
max
= max[ p(x, t )] is shown in Eq. (21), τ
max
is the maximum
shear stress. From the ﬁgure, we can clearly identify the quasi-longitudinal wave, the quasi-transverse wave,
the von Schmidt wave and the two peaks of Rayleigh wave. And the numerical results are the same by two
models. Comparing the results shown in Fig. 8 with the corresponding result for the same example obtained by
the method of characteristics [10] (the ﬁgure is omitted here), we can ﬁnd that the distributions of τ
max
/p
max
are almost the same, except that the two peak values of Rayleigh wave are slightly different.The reason is
because the boundary value is usually substituted by the value of the inner discs in DEM. It not only shows
that accuracy of two kinds of models is the same, but also veriﬁes accuracy of DEM in continuum again.
4.3 Elastic wave propagation in a layered medium
In order to estimate correctness and capability of the DEMmodels, stress wave propagation in a layered medium
should be simulated. Berezovski and Maugin has concerned the numerical example in a layered medium by
Fig. 7 The contour lines of the vertical displacement at t = 104 µs. (a) By the seven-disc model. (b) By the nine-disc model.
238 K. Liu, W. Liu
Fig. 8 Distribution of the dimensionless maximum shear stress τ
max
/p
max
at t = 104 µs. (a) By seven-disc model. (b) By
nine-disc model
using the FVM[11]. In this section, the same example in Ref. [11] is calculated by using our program. A
short-time excitation by sinusoidal normal stress at a part of the bottom boundary with linear retardation is
considered. All other boundaries are stress-free in a layered medium. Figure 9 describes the density distribu-
tion, where the gray and the black represent the copper and aluminum, respectively. The number of discs is
117,896 for the seven-disc model with the radius r = 0.5 mm. The time step is t = 0.08 µs, and the total
time is t = 80 µs. Figure 10 shows the contour plot of the total displacement at time t = 65 µs calculated by
the seven-disc model. The picture is asymmetric because of asymmetric loading at the boundary. Comparing
the result shown in Fig. 10 with the result by the FVM in Ref. [11] (the ﬁgure is omitted here), we can ﬁnd
that the snapshot of the elastic stress wave propagation is roughly same. Although the result by FVM is more
accuracy, the numerical result obtained by DEM is satisﬁed.
4.4 Stress wave propagation in a square plate with a hole
The accuracy of the present DEM models is ensured through the examples in Sects. 4.1 and 4.2. In this sec-
tion, the problem of dynamical stress concentration is calculated. As shown in Fig. 11, the stress propagation
process in an orthotropic square plate with a circular hole under a pressure pulse is simulated. The elastic
Application of discrete element method for continuum dynamic problems 239
Fig. 9 Density distribution in a layered medium
Fig. 10 Contour plot of elastic wave propagation in a layered medium
coefﬁcients are c
11
= 70.72 GPa, c
12
= 21.84 GPa, c
22
= 101.9 GPa, and c
66
= 24.40 GPa. The mass density
is ρ = 2, 488 kg/m
3
. The dimension of a square plate is 200 × 200 × 1 mm
3
(Length × width × thickness).
Ahole with a radius of 10mmlies in the center of the plate. The initial and the boundary conditions are given by
¸
σ
x
= σ
y
= σ
xy
= 0, v
x
= v
y
= 0 for t = 0,
σ
y
= −p(x, t ) = −p
0
H(a −|x|)(1 −0.5(αt −β)
2
)e
−(αt −β)
2
for y = 0,
(22)
where H(x) denotes the Heaviside function, α = 1 ×10
6
s
−1
, β = 2.5, p
0
= 500 MPa, and the loaded area
is a = 10mm.
240 K. Liu, W. Liu
2a
( , ) p x t
x
y
o
A(-0.001,0.115)
B(-0.001,0.085)
C D
Fig. 11 Sketch map of a square plate model with a hole at the center
Fig. 12 The stress wave ﬁeld of stress σ
y
at t = 20 µs
The problem is numerically calculated by the nine-disc model, where the spring constants are given by Eq.
(19). The disc radius is r = 0.25 mm, and the number of elements is 158376. The time step is t = 0.05 µs.
Figures 12 and 13 show the stress wave ﬁelds of stress σ
y
at time t = 20 and 28 µs, respectively. The lon-
gitudinal wave arrived the center of the square plate at time t = 20 µs. After t = 20 µs, the longitudinal
wave is disconnected in the hole, and the reﬂected wave has occurred on top of the hole. When t = 28 µs, the
longitudinal wave is rejoined again, that shows the phenomenon of diffraction. The shape of the stress wave
is close to a half ellipse, because the material is orthotropic and the vertical wave speed is fast. The reﬂected
wave produced at the boundary of the hole is interfered with the transverse wave. These interactivities between
stress waves result in the occurrence of stress concentrations.
The comparative curves at points A(−0.001, 0.115) and B(−0.001, 0.085) in Fig. 11 with the hole and
without hole are obtained for analyzing the phenomenon of dynamic stress concentration. Figures 14 and 15
show the time variation of σ
y
at points A and B, respectively. It can be seen from Fig. 14 that the maximum
tensile stress occurs at point A when t = 18 µs. Because of the reﬂection wave aroused at the hole, the peak
value of σ
y
with the hole is twice as the value without hole, which shows the phenomenon of dynamic stress
concentration clearly. When t = 20 µs, the longitudinal wave has arrived at the middle of the square plate.
The values of σ
y
at points A and B are small, and the maximum tensile stress occurs at points C(−0.015, 0.1)
Application of discrete element method for continuum dynamic problems 241
Fig. 13 The stress wave ﬁeld of stress σ
y
at t = 28 µs
Fig. 14 Time variation comparison of σ
y
at A
and D(0.015, 0.1) from Fig. 12. But the values of σ
y
with the hole and without hole are very close. When
t = 22 µs, the tensile stress does not occur at point B due to the existence of the hole, but have a smaller value
later on. After this, the stress values are smaller around the hole as the stress wave has passed by.
4.5 Stability of the numerical scheme
Because our DEM is a explicit method, the solution is only stable if the time step t is approximated as
t ≤ t
cr
=
2
ω
max
, (23)
where t
cr
is the critical value of the time step, ω
max
=

k
max
/m is the maximal circular frequency of a
mass-spring system, m is the mass of the smallest particle, k
max
is the maximumnormal contact spring stiffness.
As the effect of boundary condition and other factors have to be taken into account, t is always less than
t
cr
. In our numerical examples, the stability is evaluated by examining the relative energy error E
rr
in the
242 K. Liu, W. Liu
Fig. 15 Time variation comparison of σ
y
at B
Fig. 16 Time curves of the relative energy error
system, which is deﬁned as
E
rr
=
E
in
− E
t
E
in
(24)
where E
in
is the input energy and E
t
is the total energy.
For the example by seven-disc model in Sect 4.2, Fig. 16 shows time curves of the relative energy error
with different time steps t = 0.050, 0.822, 0.858, 1.000 µs. As can be seen, for t = 0.822 µs which is
obtained from Eq. (23), not only the relative energy error is steady, but also the curve is almost the same as the
curve calculated with the less time step t = 0.050 µs.
5 Conclusions
Based on the above results, we assert that the present DEM models is efﬁcient for the numerical analysis of
dynamic problems in continuum. It has extended the range of application of DEM to solving anisotropism
Application of discrete element method for continuum dynamic problems 243
problems. The usage of two kinds of models, seven-disc model and nine-disc model, has strengthened the
ﬂexibility of practical application. The same numerical results are obtained by seven-disc model and nine-disc
model for impact problems. Furthermore, comparing the numerical results obtained by DEM, FEM, FVM and
the method of characteristics, validity and accuracy of our DEM models are clearly demonstrated. Moreover,
the stress wave propagation on a square plate with a hole is simulated in order to analyze the phenomenon of
dynamical stress concentration and wave diffraction. Therefore, DEM not only is applied in non-continuum
(it widely used in geotechnical engineering and powder technology), but also is suitable for continuum (as
FEM and FVM). The research on DEM, however, has just started from the principle of continuum, and a lot
of work need be launched. The development of the DEM models for plastic materials and elastic-viscoplastic
materials will be our future work.
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